The COVID-19 global pandemic brought to everyone’s attention a number of medical and health care-related shortages in the United States. The first and most public shortage was masks and other personal protective equipment, followed by ventilators, and then tests. Now, we are running short on more than 100 different medicines, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
The common thread, in every case, is our dangerous overdependence on foreign suppliers of these essential medical goods. And all too often that foreign supplier is China: an increasingly unreliable and sometimes adverse actor in the world, whose final product can be of questionable quality.
Global trade and efficient transnational supply chains have been a beneficial source for consumers and economic growth. However, the ongoing pandemic has laid bare the extent to which we are vulnerable to disruption of those supply chains, whether those disruptions are caused by viral outbreak, increasing global tensions or some unforeseen natural catastrophe.
As a nation, we can’t afford to be without essential medicines, equipment and medical supplies. On this much we can all agree, even in these politically polarized times.
Last year, a U.S. Department of Commerce study examined by the Council on Foreign Relations found that 97 percent of all antibiotics imported into the United States come from China.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) recently pointed out that “80 percent of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients are produced abroad, the majority in China and India; however, the FDA only inspected one in five registered human drug manufacturing facilities abroad last year.”
This is a major issue for our country, and unfortunately COVID-19 made it even more apparent.
The United States can and must do better.
Earlier this year, Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced the bipartisan “Securing America’s Medicine Cabinet” (SAM-C) bill to encourage manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients here in the United States.
Even more direct to the issue, in May the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority awarded a $354 million contract to the Richmond, Va.-based Phlow Corp. to further increase our capacity to produce medicines and vital ingredients – American-made medicine for Americans.
As governors, we made job creation in Virginia our top priority. Both of us worked during our time in office to make Virginia the Silicon Valley of the East Coast and the biotech hub of the Southeast.
We know from experience that economic development and unique growth opportunities often require innovation and creativity like the opportunity that Phlow is pursuing. Phlow will produce generic medicines and active ingredients to meet current needs while also helping develop a strategic national stockpile of these “active pharmaceutical ingredients.”
Phlow has partnered with AMPAC Fine Chemical’s pharmaceutical-manufacturing facility, which re-opened last year, in Petersburg, Va., to accelerate production and take advantage of existing assets.
Combine this with the work that the Medicines for All Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University is doing to re-imagine the manufacturing process, drive down production costs and improve access to high-quality medications and it becomes clear that Central Virginia has the potential to become biotech and health sciences hub.
Selfishly, we are excited that this critical opportunity for our nation is happening in Virginia, but more importantly, we firmly believe that it will lead to further domestic investment and development in pharmaceutical manufacturing across the United States.
The renewal of American manufacturing in the life sciences is, quite literally, a matter of life and death. It can and should be a bipartisan, uniting mission.
At the height of the COVID crisis this spring, many of our country’s existing manufacturing businesses leaped into the breach to start churning out personal protective equipment, ventilators, hand sanitizer and whatever else our health care workers needed.
That American ingenuity showed what we can do when we set our minds to it. But it was also a reminder of all the things we could make here at home, but don’t anymore. For the sake of American lives and American jobs, we need to build durable capacity to manufacture health care supplies here at home.
Projects that bring together innovative startups with existing players, educational institutions and the nonprofit sector have a unique ability to solve real problems while improving national health and security.
We have a long way to go to restore America’s life-sciences manufacturing sector to where it should be. The private sector, coupled with federal policy, can help smooth the way.
As the nation continues to battle COVID-19 and seek successful permanent remedies for the nation’s medical and health care shortfalls exposed by the pandemic, we urge governors and economic development officials to take a close look: States like Virginia and communities like Central Virginia with an attractive economic infrastructure and environment, coupled with private enterprise, can gain a competitive edge to win these innovative investments and job opportunities.
Republican George Allen served as the 67th governor of Virginia from 1994 to 1998 and as a United States senator from Virginia from 2001 to 2007. Democrat Terry McAuliffe served as the 72nd governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018; he also served as chair of the Democratic National Committee, co-chair of President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign and chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
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